Revised deep ecology platform
surprising and disheartening
A review by David Orton
with Arne Naess: Is It Painful to Think?
by David Rothenberg,
University Of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis,
1993, paperback, 204 pages, ISBN 0-8166-2152-7.
with Arne Naess: Is It Painful to Think? is the product of an extended
between the Norwegian philosopher
Arne Naess, inventor of the term “deep ecology” in 1972, and American
academic David Rothenberg, the translator
of Naess’s influential Ecology, Community and Lifestyle.
who is over 80 years old, has worked
since the late ‘60s developing the ideas encompassed in the philosophy
of deep ecology, the theoretical heart
of an increasingly influential tendency within the worldwide green movement.
This tendency seeks to fundamentally
reorient human societies and their institutions to establish a new ecocentric
relationship with the natural world.
Naess, who comes through as a modest man in his writings, makes it clear in
this book that the deep ecology movement
existed long before he gave it a name.
this book help to show the evolution of the philosophical thinking of Arne
Naess: his family
background and the rebellion against
his mother; a period of psychoanalysis; crucial influences such as the Vienna
logical positivists, Spinoza, Gandhi
and Kierkegaard; and some aspects of his contemporary deep ecological
Naess is someone
who distances himself from others, from conventions, and also from the positions
that he puts
forth. In spite of his rapidly growing
influence, Naess remains the outsider or critic, apart from the society
ideas are changing.
that precision and ambiguity are needed by the philosopher, and some concepts
used in deep ecology such as “gestalt
ontology” or self-realization” are never rigidly defined.
The response of
Naess and the projection of his thinking is shaped to a large extent in this
book by the
uncompromising questions and comments
made by the curiously narrow, conservative and critical Rothenberg who
also provides a preface, introductions
to all nine chapters and an epilogue.
A theme imposed
on the conversations and that open and close the text, is the unity of humanity
environment. Putting nature before
people or human interests, seems to be the ultimate crime for David Rothenberg,
and one to which supporters of deep
ecology, according to him, are particularly prone. Speaking of deep ecology,
“Well, a lot of people don’t want to be included in it, because they think
of it as an extreme point of
view that tends to put nature before people.”
For Naess there are no dualisms, and
he makes this clear to his interviewer.
through as someone stressing human interests and, perhaps because of this,
backed into positions that seem at
odds with the overall deep ecological perspective:
“A whole human culture has the priority over extinction of one or several
animal species - but only
if the cultural difference is deep
enough from all others.”
seems to favour a social ecology perspective, continually claims that some
who follow deep
ecology see nature “apart” from people.
His cranky discussion of the environment-humanity interaction, perhaps
the main theme of this book, left
this reader very dissatisfied.
In the introduction
to chapter seven “Defining the Deep”, the theoretical core of this book, the
eight-point platform of deep ecology
is stated. Here, however, what amounts to a revisionist bombshell is dropped.
Rothenberg declares the platform now
includes support for “sustainable development.”
review was printed in the Canadian journal Alternatives, Vol. 20,
No. 4, 1994. Rothenberg
responded to my
review in a subsequent issue. Arne Naess wrote two letters to me [December
and January 10th,
1997] regarding the position of Rothenberg that “sustainable development”
now to be considered
part of the deep ecology Platform. In the January 10th letter he wrote, “I
assure you that
I never have thought of including the expression ‘sustainable development’
the eight points.”)
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